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3 signs your baby’s cough is a big problem (and what you can do about it)

You’ve been awake all night soothing your little one who’s been coughing nonstop. Of course, you can’t help but worry and wonder what to do for a baby with a cough. At this age, medicine doesn’t seem like a feasible solution. Plus, you’re not sure what to do to relieve your baby’s symptoms or how serious the condition is. So, we’ve provided some information about when you should contact your doctor and what to do in the meantime.

When you should worry about your baby’s cough

For the most part, you’re still learning how “decipher” your baby’s cough. Different signs point to different respiratory illnesses. Thus, having an idea of what’s “normal” and what’s more concerning helps when you’re trying to decide on the next step for treatment. For instance, a dry cough could signal anything from allergies to asthma depending on how often it occurs. With all the various symptoms to figure out, here are some signs to watch for.

The lingering cough

According to pediatricians Drs. Kasi S. Ajay, MD, and Rory Kamerman-Kretzmer, MD, a chronic cough that occurs daily for four weeks should be closely evaluated by a specialist. Even if your baby doesn’t run a fever during this entire time, you should play it safe and consult with your pediatrician who can point you in the right direction for an evaluation and treatment.

Cough that’s accompanied by a high fever

On a similar note, you might wonder what to do for a baby with a cough and fever. These are signs of a respiratory infection and require immediate medical attention. For babies who are two months old or younger, a fever of 100.4 can be dangerous. Therefore, your best choice is to take your child to the emergency room.

The “noisy” cough

Likewise, if your baby exhibits raspy breathing, wheezing, or rattling along with the cough, this could be bronchitis, as noted by Dr. Barton Schmitt, MD, FAAP. Often, this condition is caused by a viral infection like the common cold followed by congestion. And of course, any cough that is accompanied by fluid, mucous, or blood, at any age, would warrant an ER visit as well.

Can you give anything for a cough?

When you’re trying to decide what to do for a baby with a cough, your first instinct might be to find an effective over-the-counter cough medication. However, as mentioned in the article Cough Remedies for Babies and Toddlers, reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD, cough and cold medicine are not safe for children under the age of two. In fact, for toddlers and babies, these medications could result in serious medical emergencies. Therefore, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not giving a child cough medicine if he or she is between 4 and 6 years old unless under a doctor’s supervision.

Doctor listens to baby's breathing with stethoscope.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How can I help my baby’s cough?

Luckily, many home remedies effectively alleviate coughs and are safe to use for babies. Often, a cough is accompanied by a runny or stuffy nose. Consequently, when a baby has to breathe through his or her mouth, this can cause dryness in the throat which leads to coughing. So, to start off, you can use an aspirator to clear up mucous that’s particularly stubborn. Also, saline drops, which can be found over the counter, work well to clear up a stuffy nose. However, you’ll need to limit this practice to four times a day if your baby is under a year old.

Another safe cough remedy for babies who are three months to a year old involves giving about 5 to 15 milliliters of liquids like lemonade or apple juice no more than 4 times a day. If your child is over a year old, you can give a small amount of honey, especially at night, for a persistent cough.

Another factor that affects cough is the level of humidity in the room. You can use a humidifier to counter the effects of dry air which often causes coughing. (Just be sure to follow the directions for cleaning this contraption.) Also, you might not need to take any further steps for treatment if your baby doesn’t run a fever or seems to be playing and responding as normal.

Trying to figure out what to do for a baby with a cough can be worrisome, but as you can see, you have many alternatives to over-the-counter medicine. Plus, you now know what to watch for when monitoring your child’s condition. Regardless, you should contact your pediatrician if you ever have any questions about your baby’s symptoms and how to proceed with treatment.

Leslie Anderson
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Leslie Anderson is a freelance writer/writing coach from Roswell, N.M. She enjoys gardening, cooking, and helping students…
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